In this number we continue to illustrate the diversity
of modern Korean literature. It goes without saying that throughout this
century, the Korean people has had to endure immense suffering. It is only
natural that the works of modern Korean literature should be dominated
by this experience.
Yet while some writers have felt obliged to write works
that could serve as precise documentary records of the horrors they and
their forefathers had undergone, many others have brought their vivid imaginative
faculties to the task, transcribing the traces of pain within frameworks
of poetry and fantasy that better indicate the spirit by which the people
of Korea have been able to survive.
The main characteristic of all the works contained in
this present number is the remarkable way in which each succeeds in suggesting
the resilient humanity which Koreans have managed to preserve in the face
of immense adversity.
In Yi Ho-ch'ol's whimsical tale "Big Mountain" the sight
of a single shoe on a wall on a snowy morning is enough to evoke in the
narrator memories of another shoe in another place, and beyond that of
a moment of epiphany when he realized what an essential source of vision
he had lost.
The short stories of Su Jung-in are well-known for the
precision with which they evoke a particular moment of modern life, beginning
and ending with no apparent form, yet finely crafted to suggest the poverty
of so many lives. In "River" a group of young folk ride a bus to a rural
village wedding, get drunk, and make a night of it on the way back. The
emptiness, the lack of communication, and the longing in some for an older,
lost intimacy flow from between the lines and may perhaps explain the story's
The fundamental problems of human sexually emerge with
comic force in Choi Jeong-hee's fantasy "The Rooster" while a totally different
order of historical reality sustains Yun Hy-myong's "White Ship" with its
evocation of life among the Koreans living in exile across the republics
of the former Soviet Union. Yet here too, the hope of an encounter, of
a possible personal relationship, is the theme that carries the narrative.
Above all, this issue contains Kim Song-ok's famous "Journey
to Mujin" in which the narrator leaves behind him the corruptions
of the City and hopes to find a truer humanity in his home town. The entire
land seems decked in a fog which becomes a symbol of the all-pervasive
darkness of society. Arriving at his destination, he finds a similar social
and moral confusion to that of Seoul. Even the woman he hoped to be able
to love and trust betrays his hopes. The end offers little ground for optimism
and in this sense belongs to the great current of realistic literature,
but the poetic symbolism of the main body of the work raises it to a more
universal level of application.
We have chosen poems by three major poets, Kim Chang-ho,
Hwang Dong-kyu and Oh Sae-young. Each of these combines a strong lyric
sensitivity with an awareness of social responsibility in poems that are
often challenging on account of the tension between the reported and the
implicit. All three are strongly intellectual writers.
Finally we often the first installment of Han Seung-won's
major novel "Father and Son". Until now we have been serializing Pak Wan-so's
"Naked Tree" and we hope that readers will enjoy reading the installments
of this newly-translated work.